The Evolution of LGBTQ+ Representation in LIWs
In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, back in 2013, there was exactly one queer character. He was a side character with an offscreen love interest created solely so that people wouldn’t ship him with Lizzie at that pivotal point in the story.
2014 was when LIWs really took off, and it was also when there were the greatest differences in LGBTQ+ representation (though no one was very good at it yet). Series like Emma Approved and Green Gables Fables (we’re talking Season One here) had none. Other series, like From Mansfield With Love, made a side character who didn’t have a love interest be gay. So far, no one was really gender-bending or reimagining anything to make it gayer.
But Shakespeare is about the gayest off-copyright source material there is, so it was pretty much impossible to correctly adapt Shakespeare and make it end up totally straight.
From our 2017 standpoint, NMTD looks pretty heterosexual, but it was actually about as queer as any LIW can be without departing from the source material (though we’ll get to Twelfth Grade a little later on). Hero’s moms, though absent, are accepted by everyone, as is Balthazar, who is of course very gay despite never using that word in NMTD (The Candle Wasters really don’t like actually saying things, do they?). But it was Pedro’s coming out that really changed the tides. Goodbye queerbaiting, hello to the possibility of onscreen characters entering into non-heterosexual relationships.
2015 was a transition year in many ways. It was no longer acceptable to make an LIW without some form of queer representation, but the methods were all over the place. Some LIWs put a queer pairing center stage – Pedrazar being the prime example, however you feel about LLL – while most series started to create queer side pairings, either through gender-bending or through creating new arcs for the characters. A few examples of this from 2015 would be George Squared from Call Me Katie, Smarling from The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, and Jamie and Isabella from Northbound. Of course, some LIWs still did LBD-style representation – The Misselthwaite Archives comes to mind – but it was now because the creators wanted queer representation and not because they wanted to avert certain het ships.
Then 2016 happened. We, the viewers, were no longer willing to tolerate entirely cishet shows. 2016 saw the rise of trans and genderqueer LIW characters at long last – Puck in Bright Summer Night and Serena in The Adventures of Serena Berg being the prime examples – as well as multiple characters on the ace spectrum. And with the rise of young, bisexual webseries creators, the number of bisexual characters skyrocketed.
So let’s talk about Twelfth Grade for a minute. I won’t lie and call this series the gayest thing I’ve ever seen, but it is probably the biest. All three of the leads are bisexual, and no one is straight. Literally no one. And no matter who you shipped, it was likely a possibility if not a reality. Again, this was made possible by the source material, which is just about the biest thing ever written, and by the new LIW atmosphere, which was demanding – and getting – the queer representation that just doesn’t exist anywhere else.
Gender-bending skyrocketed in 2016, both with side characters and with mains. And now, in 2017, cishet characters are starting to be the minority. The Emma Agenda and Middlemarch: The Series, my two favorite currently-airing LIWs, have both gender-bent logically and competently all over the place in order to keep canon mostly intact while also making it much, much more diverse. Very few current LIW ships are m/f, and of those, even fewer characters are completely heterosexual.
We’ve come a long way since the days of LBD. and we couldn’t have gotten here without a lot of hard work and thinking and the bravery to tell stories the way we wanted them told. I’m not saying heterosexuality should vanish from LIWs, but I think that the direction we’ve come in is the right one. When a series like NLTS or MMTS gives the same amount of drama to queer pairings as to straight ones, when characters like Roxanne Roberts or Bathsheba Everdeen struggle with their identities in relatable ways, it normalizes every part of the human experience and continues to make LIWs the most representative form of media I know.
While I know I skipped a lot of important moments and didn’t mention several very diverse series, I used examples that I hope most people will be familiar with and that won’t be too spoilery.
LIW creators: keep doing what you’re doing. It is noticed and appreciated. Thank you.